Joséphine Baker will be the first black woman buried at the Pantheon in Paris


Interment in the Pantheon in Paris is one of the greatest posthumous honors that a French citizen can hope to obtain, as it is reserved for the greatest personalities of the country. But to say that the burial list has a racial and gender imbalance is an understatement. The overwhelming majority of the approximately 70 tombs and inscriptions in the Pantheon are white men, from Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Victor Hugo and Émile Zola.

In fact, only five women were buried there: Marie Curie; French resistance fighter Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz; ethnologist Germaine Tillion (who also helped the French Resistance); feminist Simone Veil; and Sophie Berthelot, who technically got her place because her husband, chemist Marcellin Berthelot, requested that she be buried by his side. Now like Smithsonian reports, Joséphine Baker will become the sixth woman and the first black woman to be buried in the Pantheon.

Born in Missouri in 1906, the Jazz Age performer immigrated to France in 1925 and quickly became an international sensation. Her pioneering career as a black woman in entertainment alone could have earned her a Pantheon plot, but Baker didn’t stop at song, dance and comedy. She leveraged her fame to become one of France’s most fearless spies during WWII, passing messages written in invisible ink on her sheet music and hiding other information in her luggage or even pinned down. on his underwear. She is decorated with the Croix de Guerre, the Medal of the Resistance and a military rank: lieutenant of the Air Force of Free France.

Baker, an official French citizen since 1937, was also a longtime civil rights activist and champion of underprivileged children. During the 1950s, she adopted 12 orphans from around the world; and in 1963, she spoke alongside Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington.

Baker’s remains have been buried in Monaco since his death in 1975, but a recent petition launched by the writer Laurent Kupferman called for his reburial in the Pantheon. According to The New York Times, French President Emmanuel Macron took note after the petition gathered nearly 40,000 signatures, and a representative confirmed last weekend that Baker would indeed be transferred to Paris’ most illustrious burial site November 30, 2021.

[h/t Smithsonian]


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